Cattails and purgatory

In the morning between the hours of six and seven
there is an ambiguity inside a coffee shop that any young priest
trying to make his mark as a homeletic wunderkind
would want to use as an illustration of purgatory.

But then there is a blond woman with a black bag, waiting.
And there is trouble in the back and a discussion about rubber mats,
footing and wet floors and then, God knows, talk of insurance.
And the post dawn confusion slowly sets behind swollen eyelids
and everyone is kicked out upon the rag-surface of another day.

But let me tell you of another time,
when I was in Norm’s car and we rolled it just after the bridge–
you know how the road turns and banks east beyond the loose
planks and how there is always gravel on the high edge,
and how you’d been warned to "keep the front tires off that shit."

When we rolled, the window stayed put and my shoulder went out
and Norm, intact, beamed bright, jacked up on adrenaline and thankfulness.
Always on the sensible side, he fished the old stubbies out of the back
and because it was my right shoulder that was out I let him throw them
across the road into the arrow grass and cattail.

Well, it was the grousing in the the back of this coffee shop
about wet mats and footing that leapfrogged me into this memory,
but it’s my skin that still hears the weather forecast–cloudy–
just above the toads and crickets, the radio tuned
to Regina’s CKCK–they played the Stones and Zeppelin.

And it’s my body that remembers the moss and soggy peat
that came up past our mosquito bitten ankles
in that swampy ground that lies along Cussed Creek.
Cussed because of its meandering and taunting
of some early survey crew who tried to walk a straight line.

So what was the point?
It’s not like God cut into the broadcast with a personal bulletin.
Although I would have thought it a perfect opportunity.
The music of stairways to heaven the clinching irony.
And it’s not like a car on its side in a bog beyond a ditch
explains anything other than stupidity.

Except perhaps the suddenly compressed universe
of riparian grasses—northern reed grass,
common slough grass, spangletop, and tall manna—
all sprouting like parking tickets from under the wipers.

And up past the barbwire fence with the caught fur,
the clarity of fescue, Timothy, and Alsike clover.
The stuff that grows out of the eyes of every Saskatchewan farm boy.
The stuff we baled and fed to Holstein, Hereford and Angus
making sure to watch for poison arrow grass.

And the stuff Norm and I could smell the cut of,
as we walked the miles back to his house where we slept;
but not before his dad asked twice if we were okay
and cemented home the forgiving reverence of that day.

And yet, the clouds that next morning were not so different from these.
You know how things unhook over night and in the dawn swirl grey,
and lay, like bottles in smoke just beyond the ditch of consciousness.

How a creek here, crawls its way through the mist
around low knolls and time’s woolly hedge rows
to release itself to the solitary life of a slough
and prays for prairie’s alkaline to define its depression.

And to keep yourself seated ’till seven and off a nearby bridge,
until the little priest in your mind comes to define
the liminal character of purgatory, you decide on a piercing,
or perhaps a tattoo. Like the one on the ankle of the blond lady
with the black bag—of a frog on a water lily in cattails.



  1. Wow, simply wow. Your writing is stunning, but try not to be in any more rolled cars, so we can keep reading.

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